18 March 2006

It's OK, we've been on a sales course ...

Last year, Chris and I met the senior partner of a company distributing highly specialised components into manufacturers of electrical and electronic products. The business had been successful, but over time the customer demand had contracted as many of his customers had started to outsource more and more of their manufacturing to the far east. That development had been coupled with a significant level of M&A activity which had reduced the number of customers quite sharply.

The senior partner was bright and engaging and, despite hoping to retire relatively soon, was still the major sales resource in the business. The organisation had enjoyed a stable team for a number of years and he had encouraged the employees to buy in as partners with his retirement in mind. He hoped to leave the business with his partners and that they would be able to pay him on some form of earn-out.

A couple of weeks later, Chris spoke to one of the other partners. He asked the question, "How will you manage when you are carrying all the costs of the senior partner, but he is playing golf and not selling?"

Her reply was breathtaking. "It's all sorted, we (all the other partners) have now been on a sales course!"

I have been in all kinds of organisations and I have heard plenty of people say that they need sales training. I don't want to decry sales training - some of it is absolutely excellent. But for a team of people who haven't demonstrated much sales aptitude despite being in the business for several years to believe that they will be skilled at sales after a single course is just deluded. Personally, I think it's too early for that senior partner to be planning to reduce his golf handicap.

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